One of my favorite things as a science fiction reader is to not only explore new (imaginary) worlds, but to explore them from a different point of view. As a middle-aged white male living in the US, that means reading stories from people of different genders, ethnicities and cultures. So I was very excited to read The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu). The story digs into the Chinese Cultural Revolution and I love the idea of a story from a Chinese point of view. So let’s check the book out.
Ye Wenjie is a noted astrophysicist. Her father was killed during the Cultural Revolution and she was stuck in a job that she couldn’t leave and where she wasn’t trusted. The Cultural Revolution background informs her actions and beliefs. We follow her journey from through the decades as she starts doing more and more research into the Chinese version of Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI).
Meanwhile in the present,Wang Miao is a nanomaterial engineer who’s wondering about a spate of recent suicides by notable scientists. His search for a reason leads him to a new video game where you have to solve a problem in a strange world where the sun rises and sets in a strange pattern. The society can dehydrate/rehydrate people to save them during times of extreme heat or cold. But only if they have advance warning.
The stories eventually collide in a story of contact with aliens and a group that is trying to welcome them (but they themselves have opposing sides). The book covers several philosophical questions about the interaction with another civilization, but doesn’t really answer them (as expected in the first book of a trilogy). There is a definite ending, but with a lot of unanswered questions available for the following books.
Overall the book is wonderful. The story shines a bit of a light on a part of history that I’m not very familiar with (The Cultural Revolution), but doesn’t make it feel like a history lesson. The story is a bit disjointed in the beginning, but the characters, especially Ye Wenjie, are so well written that they kept me turning the pages. I’m looking forward to the sequels and additional stories from Cixin Liu. Highly Recommended.